Today, the Humane Society of the United States released the results of three disturbing undercover investigations at wildlife killing contests in Virginia, including one this month with the largest attendance of any killing contest east of the Mississippi River. More than 60 killing contests that target foxes, bobcats and coyotes for cash and prizes have taken place in Virginia since 2015, including at least 12 in 2021.
Investigators with Humane Society of the United States attended the 2022 Eastern U.S. Predator Calling Championship where 128 teams competed for champion belt buckles, trophies and $25,600 in prize money. Categories included killing the most, the smallest and the heaviest coyote, the heaviest and smallest fox, and the most combined of the two. The three-man team crowned champion for most coyotes killed gunned down 38 coyotes. The smallest fox in the contest weighed 6.8 pounds—smaller than most house cats. At least 590 coyotes and dozens of foxes were killed during the contest and presented at the weigh-in event where the investigators were present.
Investigators reported a “stench of rotting flesh” as they entered the arena for the weigh-in. They watched as trucks filled with dead animals entered the building in an assembly line to weigh and count the bodies, as children played around bloodied animals lined up on the dirt floor. Outside, animals were piled into crates attached to pickup trucks with license plates and stickers reading “KLN YOTES,” “COYOTE HEARSE” and “DAWG DWN.”
“Wildlife killing contests make a sadistic game of slaughtering coyotes and tiny foxes for prizes, which is far outside the realm of what most Virginians would find an acceptable pastime,” said Molly Armus, Virginia state director for the Humane Society of the United States. “Wildlife is important to all citizens of the Commonwealth and does not belong to the small group of people who participate in these grisly events. The Virginia General Assembly must pass HB 1247 to join Maryland and seven other states to take a stand against this horrific blood sport responsible hunters also denounce.”
The Humane Society of the United States also went undercover at the Kanawha Valley Predator Calling Championship in Dugspur in January 2021 and the 2nd Annual Fall Predator Tournament held at the Lovingston Volunteer Fire Department in November 2020. Approximately 315 coyotes and foxes were killed at the Dugspur contest, with a winning two-man team killing 52 animals over the 45-hour contest slaughter period. Investigators at both events witnessed dead animals strewn across the ground, contestants dragging bloody animals to a scale to be weighed, trucks bearing stickers and license plates reading “YOTE H8R” and “COYOTE TAXI,” children playing among the dead bodies and a team of participants wearing “Nightlife Assassins” sweatshirts, congratulating each other as they stood next to their heap of bloody animals.
Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, said, “Killing animals for the 'fun' of winning cash and prizes is tragic not only for the animals but also for our fragile ecosystems. In wildlife killing contests, participants typically compete by piling up the most animal carcasses, and when the contest is over, they throw them away like trash. It is a scandal that these contests are allowed to continue anywhere at all; they must be banned in every state."
Eight states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Vermont and Washington—have already banned wildlife killing contests.
HB 1247, championed by Del. Mark Keam, would prohibit wildlife killing contests in Virginia. It would not impact other hunting laws related to coyotes, foxes or other wildlife species or prevent lethal control to protect people, property or livestock. It’s a narrowly tailored bill that would simply abolish the competitive killing of animals for frivolous prizes.
Wildlife killing contests take place across Virginia including in Harrisonburg, Colonial Heights, Lynchburg, South Boston, Wytheville and Marion. Bobcats, foxes and coyotes are most often targeted in wildlife killing contests in the Commonwealth. Coyotes and foxes can be killed in unlimited numbers because there are no bag limits on these species.
- Competitors achieve high kill numbers by using unfair and unsporting tactics including night vision, thermal imaging and electronic calling devices. These tactics mimic sounds of dependent young or prey in distress to lure animals in for an easy kill. Animals are then gunned down with high-powered rifles—including AR-15s—which rip holes in the fur, rendering the pelts useless.
- Fire departments, sporting goods stores, fairgrounds and churches often host or organize these events in Virginia.
- In 2021, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources said, “[there is a] misconception that predator killing contests provide benefits to the public and other wildlife species.” State wildlife management agencies, including the Virginia DWR, found that wildlife killing contests and other indiscriminate killing of carnivores do not effectively manage carnivore numbers, prevent livestock attacks or boost populations of game species.
- During the Virginia DWR’s recent public comment period about wildlife killing contests, 78% of Virginia respondents were in favor of a rule to ban them.
- A national poll released last week found that 80% of Americans oppose wildlife killing contests.
- Hunters and wildlife management professionals across the U.S. including the Virginia DWR, have called out killing contests as unethical and warned they are damaging the reputation of hunters and threatening the future of hunting.
Virginia residents can express their support for HB 1247 to ban wildlife killing contests in the Commonwealth.
- Rodi Rosensweig